Zombie movies. We’ve seen everything this genre has to offer, its been around for decades, currently infecting our TV screens with two Walking Dead shows. Is there anything new in this genre?
The short answer is yes. It is so often said that Hollywood horror films are safe and predictable, here we go further afield to South Korea.
Director Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan is one of the best zombie movies I have seen in years, the pace is as aggressive as the infected, once the outbreak begins, it goes for the jugular (or any other body part its teeth can chomp down on) and refuses to let go. One scene, when the passengers disembark at a station, believing it to be safe and controlled by the military, and their subsequent scramble to get back on the train is one of the most effective and terrifyingly tense scenes I have seen in a long time. It makes The Walking Dead seem glacial in pace and timid in terms of its horror, much closer to the fear from 28 Days/Weeks Later.
Movies like this only work if the audience is able to care about the characters on screen, and Train to Busan gets us invested very quickly. We know most of them won’t make it, and there are a few heart wrenching moments along the way. We spend most of the runtime with Seok-woo and his young daughter Su-an. Having a child in the mix amps up the stakes immeidately, and the other characters are equally affable and their reactions human given the situation.
It is difficult to do something different in this genre but in setting most of the action in a confined space, a train in this case, it allows for the horror to feel incredibly close, combined with a sense of claustrophobia and increasing helplessness. A train isn’t a car or bus, it can’t just stop anywhere, nor can it escape in different directions. The finale feels a little lacklustre, despite the action and explosions. A braver film might have spent every second on the train, but that being said, doing so would have robbed us of its greatest sequence.
The only real issue is the obvious message, that we’ve been hammered with so many times, that humans are often the worst monster out there. The scenes, in which a group of survivors refuse to let the others back into the carriage fearing they might be infected, are harrowing but nothing new. People are terrible, far worse than the zombies, who are just mindless creatures, it takes a human being with intelligence to be truly evil. Arguably, Yon-suk is the true villain of the film. The zombies are a merely a fearsome force of nature.
A frantic horror film that never lets go, Train to Busan is well worth seeking out if you’re a zombie fan, more than that, it is brilliantly directed and acted horror film. This was my first South Korean film, but it will not be my last.
Train to Busan hits UK cinemas on the 28th of October